Folklore, History & the Study of Myth

The Writings of Gary R. Varner


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Coal: Energy and Pain in Eastern Kentucky

Posted by Gary R. Varner on November 3, 2013 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (2)

While the Republican Party touts coal as America's cheap energy resource what are the other aspects of coal mining?


Eastern Kentucky has long been the coal capital of the United States. This region of the Commonwealth relies on the jobs that coal mining generates to survive. Some miners, working in the cramped and dangerous mines earn up to $75,000 annually and would find it impossible to survive without coal. But what else does coal generate?


To put it bluntly coal mining destroys habitat and water purity and creates vast wastelands. "Mountaintop removal" is often used to access coal deposits. In this process the actual top of a mountain is removed and dumped into nearby valleys which blocks waterways and deposits huge volumes of toxic materials into the water systems. Such toxics include manganese, aluminum and other carcinogens which seep into the ground water, polluting wells and drinking water. In Eastern Kentucky's coal region the cancer rates are skyrocketing.


Water collected from streams is often brown, black, orange or red in color and the water itself is lifeless. Tap water often appears clear but harbors dangerous cancer causing materials.


Perhaps one of the most insidious acts of Kentucky Republican Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul was to attempt to amend the Clean Water Act to limit the water protections in the Act to just 59% of the streams and wetlands of the United States. Their actions were motivated to hinder the EPAs efforts to protect the public from the effects of Mountaintop Removal. Luckily their amendments failed to garner sufficient votes to pass. This is reminiscent to George W. Bush’s attempts to remove arsenic and mercury from the list of toxic elements prohibited in streams and drinking water.


While Eastern Kentucky suffers even with active coal mining, having lost 6,000 coal mine jobs in recent years due to the development of alternative energy and increased environmental restrictions, elected officials and others need to think outside the mine to develop alternative employment for the region. Perhaps by transitioning these people into the alternative and sustainable fuels arena and creating new employment in agriculture and other areas of land use the region can continue to grow and maintain itself.


Luckily Kentucky’s Governor Steve Beshear and Republican Congressman Harold Rogers, in a bipartisan effort, have taken actions to transform the poverty stricken region into a self sustaining and growing environment with the formation of a 40-person task force made up of industry, business and education representatives to develop a strategy to effectively attack the problem on a multi-level approach. As the Governor stated, “The people of Appalachia must step up and take responsibility for their own future” to “place the region at the center of the world’s economy in ways it’s never been before.” Rogers reiterated that the solutions to Eastern Kentucky’s problems “must come from within” and not from the government.


Diversified employment must be created to remove this regions reliance on coal and to create a more hospitable environment for the people of Kentucky.



A review copy you said?...

Posted by Gary R. Varner on December 29, 2007 at 10:06 PM Comments comments (0)

All new writers, as well as many, if not most, old ones desire to have their books reviewed in other publications so that their books become well known around the world. However, writers desire that the reviews be fair, concise, and reflect a true reading of the book.


A few months ago I wrote a piece about a journal that requested a copy of two of my books having to do with the folklore of water. The reviews were written by a woman who has also written a few books but decided that the manner in which I footnoted my sources was reprehensible to her. She also decided to take issues with one of the books that, should she have actually read it, she would have known better.


This has occurred yet again. I submitted a copy of my book, Creatures in the Mist to Rambles. This is an online journal which reviews many books from all genres?including folklore and mythology. I had always enjoyed the reviews as well as the other articles in Rambles and when the editor gave an affirmative to send the book in for review I advised him in the letter (written on April 26, 2007) that went with it that the copy was a review copy, which contained some printing errors. These errors were corrected prior to the book becoming available for distribution. However, the reviewer obviously decided that she didn?t really wish to read a book on the folklore of mythical creatures as she gave scant information about it in her December 8, 2007 review. While she graciously said that my ?expertise and sincerity are obvious? she spent the majority of her time complaining about the printing errors which had been explained.   

She wrote:

?I don't generally comment on a book's format, but unfortunately the printing of this book (not an advanced reader's copy but a commercial paperback) omitted all hyphens, leaving an open space at the end of a line where a word would generally be hyphenated. It may sound like a small matter, but if you check out any book in which margins are justified, you'll quickly see that the hyphen gets used frequently. The space is distracting and indeed is a flaw both the author and publisher, Algora (which advertises itself as an academic press), should have corrected before the manuscript went to press. Sadly, despite the no doubt fascinating content of this work, the printing error gives it a cheap appearance.?

Well I will give her the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps the editor did not forward the letter that accompanied the book where it was plainly stated that, in fact, the book was a first run review copy which contained printing errors. I suppose though that she had to write something to come up with her word quota so rather than write something that showed she had little interest or understanding in the material, she wrote about that which would fill space?the ?cheap appearance? that was created by leaving hypens out of the text.

Over the years I have had several people request review copies of my books and I usually understand that most of the time the books will never be reviewed in print. What reviewers need to understand is that the author has put months of work into the book and has invested a substantial amount of money in the project as well completing research, obtaining photographs and buying reference materials. Also, the author and or the publisher invests a certain amount of money (sometimes substantial amounts) in providing free copies of these books to potential reviewers.  

 To have ones book belittled because of printing errors in a review copy or because the reviewer didn?t like the way footnotes were provided or, in one case, a gentleman in another country who complained that locals should have written the book rather than ?foreigners on holiday? speaks more about the reviewer than it does about the book.

This said, I will add that I will no longer be providing review copies of my work. Should a legitimate reviewer truly wish to obtain one the best way to go is request one from the publisher or, heavens forbid, buy a copy.







Are Books and Readers Becoming Extinct?

Posted by Gary R. Varner on December 3, 2007 at 11:09 AM Comments comments (0)
A recent report published by the National Endowment for the Arts indicates that only 47% of American adults read for pleasure--and only 57% read any book at all during 2002. Undoubtedly the numbers are even more grim today with hundreds of thousands of books being published but few being read. The report goes on to say that the number of non-reading adults increased by 17 million between 1992 and 2002--to a staggering 89.9 million adults. Has illiteracy become more attractive and useful than knowledge? Have books that give the reader a bit of history, social understanding, and humanity become blase and useless?

The Book Industry Study Group reported that the number of books sold in the United States in 2003 had dropped by 23 million from the previous year.

The loss in readership is not tied to economics or race or education. The drop in readers occured in every segment of society and among every age group. There were a few standouts however. Only 38 percent of poor adult males and only 26.5 percent of Hispanics as a whole read one book. The most distressing loss is among the young. The number of individuals between the age of 18 to 24 that read any book dropped by 10 percent to 43 percent.

What has contributed the most to this disaster? Unfortunately it appears that the electronic media is to blame. Kids using text messaging no longer know how to spell or use a complete written sentence. A few years ago I knew a young woman who was finishing her masters degree and complained that she had an assignment to write a 1,000 word paper. That's equivalent to approximately 4 typed pages. For a masters program!

When my children were younger and in middle and high school I had an opportunity to see their libraries. I use the word "library" loosely. There were more computers than books. The loss in knowledge and in the printed word is directly tied to the poor judgement of educators who believe that knowing how to use a PC is more important than knowing how to do real research, more important than expanding the brain and one's humanity by reading about other cultures, problems, solutions and viewpoints.

While the report was titled that "reading at risk", perhaps it should have been called "America at risk."  

A Measure of Success

Posted by Gary R. Varner on October 26, 2007 at 2:14 PM Comments comments (0)

A Measure of Success


Writers, except for those few who have hit a market with a good product at a good time, are similar to the starving artist who works tirelessly at his craft. Working tirelessly but reaping little or no financial rewards. Those few lucky souls, mostly authors of popular novels, become icons for the rest of us desiring to have their works read and, hopefully purchased by an appreciative audience.


But success can, and should, be measured in other ways. There are thousands of excellent books out there, and millions more not even written as yet, that should be read?that deserve to be read. And perhaps that is the true measure of success. I am not immune to these desires of success either. I have written 14 books, which I knew would only fit in a niche market. How many people, I asked myself, are interested enough in folklore and mythology and the traditions of ancient societies to actually search out my titles and to plop down their hard earned cash for them? I am rarely able to buy my own works from my major publisher even with the author discount! In an effort to gain control over my own work and to set a fairer price I have begun to produce books under my own imprint. But I have digressed. What about ?success??


After some mental torment and feeling as if it would be easier to simply stop writing, I came to the realization that, in fact, I am successful. My works are read around the world in a variety of cultures by a variety of people. My articles on Authors Den have been copied and republished on the internet, in a huge variety of venues, including mainstream and educational as well as ?alternative? sites. In addition, my articles have been read by individuals working at the Department of Defense, the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, Oxford University, and dozens of other universities and school districts.  Individuals around the world are also readers, from Croatia to London, and from South Africa to Iran, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Barbados, Sweden and Brazil, Canada, Mexico, the Russian Federation, France, Gibraltar, Israel and Greece. My books sell well to libraries, both university and public. My books can be found at Harvard, Cornell, the Princeton Theological Seminary, the UC system, University of Pittsburgh, University of Ottawa, the University of Otago in New Zealand and such institutions as the Smithsonian, as well as 477 other libraries around the world. I have had articles appear in scholarly journals such as the Living Spring Journal in England and Magister Botanicus in Germany. Are these measures of success even though my royalties are rarely enough to buy a nice dinner? Yes!


A writer writes to be read. While a bit of financial success would always be welcome, the fact is I have done what I set out to do. I am read and my writings have contributed to discussion and further research. So in those times of doubt I can at least say that my work has been validated and that it is, at last, worthwhile.